Science & Nature

Jul 1, 2017

OVER GIANTS' SHOULDERS

The world is experiencing troubled times and the history of mankind has shown that economic crises reflect deeper civilizational crises, the ones of values. Processes and knowledge that we had already acquired are called into question again.

Science have been misunderstood, although we live in a world immersed in it and there has been a progressive growth of contending currents ranging from the most absurd conspiracy theories to the creationist movements, through the Anti Vaccinations and the Flat Earth. These are not mere theoretical positions. They have practical implications on people's lives and inform decisions that impact a lot of people and for a long time.

The common conception of science is wrong and quite out of step with what can be grasped in the light of the science of science - or philosophy of science if you prefer - and its history, or epistemology. Science is one of the three great systems or processes of knowing and relate to the world around us. These are the beliefs, which we believe dogmatically, that is without criticism or logical reasoning, and that does not need to be verified. This is the case of religions. Then there is the empirical and sensory knowledge that comes from our experiences and what is imposed on our senses. And finally, there is science.

For the misperception of science, contributes above all the confusion over its ability to produce truth and eternal knowledge. Most people assume that science produces absolute truths while another part believes that the knowledge it produces is as valid as any belief or that it is "just one more theory".

Another of the confusions is the neutrality or impartiality of science. And, in this issue, scientists are often confused with science, or science with its applications.

How to know the world thinking

As it is known the birth of science is usually attributed to the Greeks more than 2500 years ago. In fact, it is the development of Greek philosophical thought that proposes a new process of knowing, that is beyond the other two already mentioned. From the Socratic maiêutica as generator of critical doubts, to Aristotelian logic, the Greeks were responsible for the beginning of a revolution in the way of thinking. From them was born geometry and algebra. They taught us and explained that believing or observing is not enough to know. They were the first to prove that the senses and beliefs deceive us many times. Names like Archimedes, Euclid, or Pythagoras are inescapable for the world we have today and for the way we think about things. Whether we believe in science or not.

Interregnum in thought

In spite of the Roman conquest of the Greek empire, the knowledge produced was preserved and maintained, and the Romans inherited much of the Greeks especially with regard to political philosophy and technology.

With the fall of the Roman Empire, the institutionalization of Catholicism in the form of the church and its rise to power in feudal Europe, an interregnum was created in the evolution of knowledge, once that belief in the interpretation of the biblical texts was superimposed to any other kind of knowledge.

In the 15th century, the renascence, the invention of the press by Gutenberg, and in the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation ended up creating the environment conducive to what would follow.

Scientific revolution

The publication of "De revolutionibus orbium coelestium" by Nicolaus Copernicus was the beginning of a process that still lasts today and counted on contributions from Galileo, Descartes, Isaac Newton, Lavoisier, Faraday or Darwin.

More recently Max Plank, Heisenberg, Einstein, Schrödinger, or Gödel have given a new impetus to science by revealing that reality extends far beyond what was imagined and that its laws do not entirely conform to the calculations, observations, or experiences hitherto performed.

No, it's not "just a theory"

This story serves to explain that, in the first place, science was and is a process of contestation to the power that was instituted and that dictated the way the world was thought. The scientific process first and foremost challenges the legitimacy of power by and to determining what is true and, in this way, is revolutionary and democratic. It is a process that removes the production of truth and knowledge by position and social status and transfers it to anyone who is able to reasonably and logically construct, defend and demonstrate reasoning.

Secondly serves to demonstrate that science does not offer absolute truths, this is the role of belief, in this case religion. If it did, it would be dogmatic and oppose the principle of his creation: that of the possibility and duty to be questioned and corrected. It is a process that is based on doubt, questioning, refutation or corroboration.

Thirdly, it shows that science is a long cumulative system of coherences, that is, what is known, or discovered, must be consistent with both the previous course (premises) and adjacent areas. Thus forming a double verification: the one of the own questioning, by others; and the one of the coherence with the route and other "solidifications". It may thus happen that new questions refute or corroborate previous knowledge or discovery, or that the previous body will eventually refute or corroborate the new findings.

Fourth, science discovers rather than creates - the "logical" or properties are already there - instead of "inventing" or creating. As consequence it gives the possibility of confirmation by others.

Science is a process that verifies and proves. And that allowed and resulted in technological developments that in turn feed new discoveries in a cycle where we can find the bolt of Archimedes, steam engines, or the great tribute of Marie Curie: radio, the RX ray and the radiation that took Einstein and others to the atomic bomb; the airplane, the electric light or the computer, the microscope the bacteria, the antibiotic or the vaccines.

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